After World War II and the 1947 Hurricane, a group of ladies got together and formed a carnival krewe called Les Danceurs. The ladies and their significant others determined that the men involved should also have a carnival krewe of their own. Les Danceurs was an elegant themed Mardi Gras ball with some Gulf Coast wrinkles. The men, on the other hand, developed a Mardi Gras krewe with a comedic flavor.
Les Cavaliers was formed by a group of men with their primary roots in Biloxi and in Gulfport and in order to gain what they considered coast wide membership at the time, the organization would be composed of as equal as possible members from the two perspective cities. The founders included the Cooper brothers, Tony Ingracia from Gulfport, Albert Wetzel, Norman Moran, Pat Santa Cruz, Nicky Nicora, and J.E. Buddy Wentzell of Biloxi. These men sat around their dining room tables and established the guidelines for the organization.
Some of the key themes for the organization were:
- It would be a men’s organization
- The member, his spouse or significant would be able to invite another couple to the ball.
- The ball would be held two or three weeks prior to Mardi Gras on a Saturday night.
- The initial ball would be held in the Victory Room of the Buena Vista Hotel in Biloxi.
- The six dukes for the ball would be chosen at random.
- The maids would be the wives, or significant others, of the dukes chosen.
- Each couple on the court would be given a comical script by the Board which they would perform during the tableau.
- The court members attire would be costume, rather than elegant.
- Each couple would have to learn their skit but would not know the theme or any of the other couples involved in the tableau until shortly before the ball. (Secrecy was very important!)
- The king would be called King Les Cavalier and chosen at random by the Board. The king’s identity remained strictly a secret until he was introduced to the queen, the maids and dukes, and the members and guests during the tableau. (Secrecy of the court, the king and queen, were of utmost importance.)
- The Board selected the queen at random. The queen would strictly be kept a secret until she was introduced to the maids and dukes during rehearsal for the ball.
Concerning the ball itself – Ladies attending the ball, significant others of members or guests were required to wear floor-length gowns. No ankle length, tea length or cocktail dresses were allowed in the ball room. Ladies would be requested to go home and change clothes if they arrived in anything other than formal floor length attire. Members and male guests were required to wear black-tie tuxedos or dress military uniforms. There were no exceptions.
Membership would be limited to 100 members and dues would be $100. per year. However, the board could exceed the 100 member limit with a special exception. This fee would include the member and his wife or date and one invitation for another couple; and four breakfast tickets for after the ball.
Initial board meetings were held in the board members’ homes on a monthly basis but were soon moved to one of the small vacant rooms at the Friendship House Restaurant. After Hurricane Camille, board meetings were moved to various locations but always where the board members could get a cocktail. The yearly agenda was governed by the date of the ball with the first one or two meetings after the ball being devoted to the paying of all bills and critique of the dance itself. Membership letters were mailed out prior to the end of May with the dues becoming due the day of the July meeting. If any member did not pay his dues by that time, he would be considered dropped from the roll and a new member, from the waiting list, would be voted on by the board members. Names for the court, including the king and queen would be chosen at random during the July meeting and board members would contact the individuals selected. All acceptances were to remain a secret to anyone other than the board members.
The ball and meal was moved from the Buena Vista to the Broadwater, then to the Coliseum and eventually to IP. The ball was a BYOB affair at the Buena Vista, the Broadwater, and the first few years at the Coliseum. In the mid-1990s, a cash bar was required at the dance. In the mid-1970s, the ball itself was changed from a comical skit tableau to an elegant themed tableau and Sheila Grey was employed by the board to assist with the design and construction of all court’s outfits (including the king and queen). Monetary limits were placed on the costumes for the queen, maids and dukes but would be paid for by the individuals. The queen’s scepter, crown, dress, mantel and train were selected by Sheila and the queen and coordinated with the king’s cavalier costume, approved by the board.
During the mid-1980s, a Saturday afternoon cocktail party was scheduled for the members at a Holiday Inn near the coliseum and was paid for by Les Cavaliers. Initially, the organization did not block a group of rooms for the board, court or general membership. However, a practice of blocking a group of rooms evolved to what it is today. The practice of having the court toast the king and queen, prior to the tableau, was held as a special time to introduce the queen to the court. However, the name of the king remained secret.
The stage layout and decorations have continued to be a challenging project for the board. Various ideas and combinations have been tried during the years of the organization. Everything from the board members making and constructing the entire stage; renting backdrops from New Orleans carnival organizations; having local artists construct and decorate the stage; to any combination of the above.
The script and tableau music have also continued to be a challenge. The script has been written and produced by board members, radio stations, professional writers and whatever; and tableau music in much the same way.
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